Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Terminalia catappa

Terminalia catappa also known as Sea Almond, is native to Southeast Asia and from the family Combretaceae.

It is tall tree with a distinctive pagoda crown shape that results from the horizontal held branches that spreads out at regular spaced intervals along the trunk. It can reach a maximum height of 35m.

Simple, oval leaves arranged spirally in whorls at the ends of the twigs. They measure 15-30cm by 9-18cm. The deciduous tree has its new bright green leaves turning various shades of red or yellow twice a year, thus shedding suddenly. New leaves have a covering of soft, pressed, brown hairs while mature leaves are mostly shiny, leathery, and dark green.

Small, greenish-white in short elongated clusters (spike) that are 8-25cm in length, the flowers are about 4–6 mm across, with five lobes, producing a mildly unpleasant smell. Within a spike the majority of the flowers are male, with only a few female flowers positioned toward the base. Plants usually commence flowering and fruiting from a young age, but this varies with site and genes.

The fruit is shaped like an Almond, turning green through yellow to bright red or dark purplish red at full maturity, an edible nut.  Fruit size varies considerably with extremes in length from 2.5cm to 10 cm. Each fruit contains a single seed. The seed is surrounded by a corky/spongy layer which enables the fruits to float on water for several days as they are dispersed by water. 

Unlike the commercial almond, the Sea Almond can be eaten raw. Oil extracted from the dried nuts is edible and used in cooking. Tannin and a black dye can be extracted from the bark, leaves and fruit. In Singapore, it is a common wayside tree, planted to provide colour and shade. Various species of biting and stinging ants have been found inhabiting hollow twigs of the tree. While the tree provides these creatures with a home, the ants in turn may protect the tree from insect predators

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